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What Poetry Can Do

Howard County, Maryland, sits just north of Washington, DC, and it is home to a remarkable organization.  The Howard County Poetry & Literature Society is one of the most active and amazing arts organizations in the country. For forty years, they have offered poetry and literature events: readings, workshops, television programs, and a poet-in-residence program. A few summers ago I participated in their television program, “The Writing Life” by interviewing poet Patricia Smith. This year, I’m thrilled to be working with them again as their 23rd Poet-in-Residence. Throughout the coming school year, I’ll visit their high schools and Howard Community College to give readings and conduct workshops.

As a longtime high school teacher, I know the power of poetry in a high school classroom. I’ve seen it fire up students whose imaginations have not yet been ignited. I’ve seen poetry grab students from within because it put words on their experiences. I’ve seen it connect students more deeply and honestly to their own lives. I’ve seen the healing properties in poetry, helping students grieve, helping them hope. Especially as a teacher of American Literature, I’ve seen students locate their own lives in the words of Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes, among others.

With this love of poetry, I’m very grateful for this opportunity to work with students and teachers in Howard County. Hopefully we will enjoy some terrific workshops, have some good readings, and see once again, how poetry can empower and move us.

The Poet-in-Residence program run by the Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) has a long and beautiful history. I’m awed by the folks who have held this position before me. The first Poet-in-Residence was Lucille Clifton. Her poetry has played an enormous influence in my own life and work. To honor her memory, I plan to use her poetry in each reading or workshop this year. Many other poets I admire have held this position as well, including Roland Flint, Hilary Tham, Michael Dirda, E. Ethelbert Miller, Michael Collier, Barbara Goldberg, Edgar Gabriel Silex, Lyubomir Nikolov, Reuben Jackson, Grace Cavalieri, Jean Nordhaus, Michael Glaser, Kendra Kopelke, Gayle Danley, Truth Thomas, Liz Rees, Terence Patrick Winch, Marion Winik, Sandra Beasley, Derrick Weston Brown, and Jenny O’Grady.

Programs like this don’t succeed by chance. I’m already grateful to the kind work of Susan Thornton Hobby and Tim Singleton. I look forward to working with school liaison, Kathy Hurwitz and I know there will be others.

In the coming months, I’ll write here about some of the magnificent moments that emerge through these workshops and readings. So stay tuned. Poetry can do some amazing things.

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